This week: a deadly pathogen that threatens to cause a pandemic, plus a debut novel that combines weird fiction with psychological suspense.
Argentinian-born author Axat fuses weird fiction with psychological suspense in his stunning U.S. debut, set in the Boston area. Terminally ill businessman Ted McKay is about to shoot himself when a stranger named Justin Lynch shows up at his house with a proposal: kill a criminal who escaped justice and an innocent man who wants to die, and in return, someone will kill him, sparing his family the shame of his suicide. Ted carries out his end of the deal, only to learn that Lynch lied about the circumstances surrounding both victims. As Ted searches for the truth, strange dreams and inexplicable events cause him to question his sanity, leaving Ted and the reader uncertain as to what is real and whom to trust. Nightmare imagery, mind-bending plot twists, and a kaleidoscopic storytelling style lend Axat’s tale a vertiginous air, but at the core of this literary fever dream lies an elegantly crafted and emotionally resonant mystery that astonishes, devastates, and satisfies in equal measure.
A time-traveling European folk hero becomes a fabulist diplomat in Krzhizhanovsky’s clever, fantastical addition to the Baron Münchausen myth. Falling from “a gigantic clockface of the centuries” into the 1920s, Münchausen travels from Berlin to London, taking up residence in Mad Bean Cottage and conquering high society with his extraordinary tales; soon Münchausen’s “aphorisms... are on lecterns in both houses of Parliament.” Apparently sent on a mission to the Soviet Union, the Baron returns with his wildest account yet. He recounts that because “in that ruined country, the position of the hardworking highwayman is extremely troublesome and not to be envied,” Münchausen eases the criminals’ lot by teaching them to blow out the Moon as if it were a candle; in Moscow, Münchausen’s reports of European capitals, Churchill, Chaplin, and “rivers of automobiles” literally melt a defunct countess. Münchausen’s ardent European reception, however, cannot help him with his ultimate challenge—facing a country that may be more darkly fanciful than his tales. Krzhizhanovsky, largely unpublished in the U.S.S.R. during his lifetime, draws both on Münchausen’s traditional feats and on cultural lore from Augustine, Diderot, and others. By sending his wily hero into the heart of Bolshevism, he insists that “sooner or later the nightingale will outwarble the factory whistle.” Readers will discover in this remarkable novel a very serious satire, an honest fable, and a bit of genius.
Medical student McCarthy’s accomplished first novel and series launch plunges Harry Kent, a London ER doctor who also serves as an on-call doctor for police matters (the British term is police surgeon), into a difficult situation: 17-year-old Solomon Idris has taken hostages in a fast-food restaurant and he needs medical help. Idris will let three hostages go if a physician treats him. Kent enters the restaurant, where he starts to treat Idris, but when the snipers covering Kent hear a gunshot, they shoot, wounding Idris. The teenager is taken to a hospital, where someone tries to kill him. The angry, determined Kent makes it his mission to save Idris—and to find out what made him resort to such a violent act. Kent’s considerable backstory as an army doctor in Afghanistan includes his connection to James Lahiri, a doctor who saved Kent’s life overseas and has been treating Idris in London. McCarthy provides a fascinating look at the sociology of crime and policing while deftly exploring the motivations of Idris, Kent, and Lahiri.
Born and raised in a lab, Isaiah the mouse has blue fur, is well-spoken, and can read and write. When he and his 96 siblings escape from the lab, Isaiah is the only one who eludes capture. After being taken in by a mischief of mice who live in the cellar of the Brophy family home, Isaiah becomes a valuable member of the family, outwitting the family cat and rescuing a mouse caught in a trap, among other exploits. As Isaiah comes to recognize his own skills, courage, and self-worth, he emboldens others, like Mikayla, a mouse with her own unacknowledged talent. Isaiah’s friendship with a human girl named Hailey (it’s implied that she has albinism) further drives home the novel’s themes of celebrating individuality and belief in oneself. Sutphin’s detailed line drawings pair perfectly with this sweet tale from the authors behind the Treasure Hunters books and other titles. Reminiscent of Garth Williams’s work in Stuart Little, the artwork helps set up Isaiah as a modern-day counterpart to that intrepid mouse.
Bestseller Rollins’s epic 12th Sigma Force adventure (after The Bone Labyrinth) features exotic locales, heroic quests, quixotic villains, action galore, and enough science and scientific curiosities to titillate even casual readers. Archeologist Harold McCabe, who has been missing for two years, suddenly emerges from the Egyptian desert near death and dies before being able to say where he has been and what has happened. McCabe’s body seems to be the source of a deadly pathogen that threatens to cause a pandemic. That thread sends one team—including McCabe’s daughter, Jean McCabe; bio-archaeologist Derek Rankin; and Sigma Force’s operative named Seichan and Commander Grayson Pierce—to Egypt and Sudan. Meanwhile, Safia al-Maaz, a senior curator at the British Museum, is kidnapped while speaking with Sigma Force director Painter Crowe in Washington, D.C., and Painter follows that line, which leads to the Arctic and a huge installation run by billionaire Simon Hartnell. A Russian assassin, Valya Mikhailov, matches skills and wits with Seichan, while Valya’s assassin twin brother, Anton, does likewise with Crowe. Rollins’s characters are as large as his landscape in this vast and vastly entertaining thriller saga.